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Do we really need college?

We are constantly lambasted with the news that around one in three Michigan high school graduates are not ready for college. To be sure, the data varies from district to district. Yet even the wealthier areas, the areas where the schools are supposed to be so much better than everyone else because they have so much more money which they oh so willingly throw at their charges, show a rather high rate of graduating students who need remedial work in a university setting too. Bloomfield Hills schools show that slightly over a fifth of their pupils require extra lower level work in order to be prepared for college. The Grosse Pointe Schools show that 16% of their grads need it too.

What can we make of these facts? To begin with, money probably isn't what makes good schools good. The key difference between poorer areas and wealthier is almost certainly in the areas of parental involvement and family support structure and not in the fact that there's more cash to toss around. Even in the richer parts of town, one in five and one in six rates of poorly trained graduates (considered solely in terms of preparedness for higher education) seems rather high.

That isn't necessarily the fault of the schools or the teachers themselves, however, any more than poor performing schools absolutely reflect bad schools or bad teachers in less affluent neighborhoods. What we are facing here is the simple fact that not everyone wants to go to college. Or should.

How do we address that in a way fair and equitable to everyone? The most obvious answer would be to stop pushing the inane idea that college is for everyone, or worse (as is so often implied) that a degree makes you more special or more fulfilled than someone without one. That's nothing more than the arrogance of the credentialed, and a disgusting and shallow breed of haughtiness it is indeed. Let those who do not want college feel no pressure to attend.

While we're at it, why not drop the nonsense about needing college to make more money. Yes, we know what the statistics say. We also know plumbers and electricians and business owners of many stripes who make as much as their lawyer and teacher friends while working no more hours. Individual initiative and not university is often, if not generally, what makes for better salaries.

It might help us to notice two others areas which also play into the college scenario. The first are the amount of jobs which require a college degree yet, in a better and perhaps saner world, would not. To become a title abstracter you need a degree...in anything. Yet when we contacted an abstracter, he told us that an intelligent eighth grader could do his work. So why college for it?

Then, even where we would concede college necessary, couldn't we make it cheaper by having universities drop silly and stupid courses? Michigan State offers a course in surviving Zombie attacks; Siena Heights University has had classes on The Simpsons and Philosophy; and Wayne State University offers ballroom dancing, all for college credit. This isn't to pick on MSU, WSU, or Siena, as we're sure other Michigan universities have similar curriculum shortcomings. Yet even the supposed core curriculum subjects could be paired; why must an engineering major take a history course? It is safe to presume the schools could cut plenty of spending themselves to make a university degree, where necessary and prudent, more affordable.

Many of the economic stats simply reflect the fact that some jobs pay less than others, as ought to be expected. What else ought to be expected yet is not is that some people are perfectly happy with those chores. And a good thing too: how many good and needed things would go undone without them? Those who elect to do such jobs, or even feel no option but to take them on, are surely not second class citizens. They or their jobs should not be treated as such.

In short, the remedial needs rates of recent high school graduates are not of themselves cause for panic or concern. They may simply reflect the desire of some people to do things other than what society may think they ought. As such, we have but one duty: to get out of their way and let them live their lives. It's something we could easily do by merely shaving an inch or two off the ivory tower and the attitudes which feed it.